Height Restriction:BPDA Board Amends Article 53 for Suffolk Downs Phase I Proposal

By John Lynds

At last Thursday’s Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) January board meeting, BPDA officials asked the board to amend Article 53 of the Boston zoning code that created the East Boston Neighborhood District and allow the developer of Suffolk Downs to build higher than the 45 ft. restriction currently in place under zoning codes.

HYM Investment Group, LLC is trying to make a small portion in the southeast corner of the 161-acre site “Amazon ready” if the Seattle-based internet company decides to pick Boston and move its second North American headquarters (H2Q) to Boston.

In order to do so HYM and Boston needs to be able to deliver 500,000 sq. ft. of office space to the tech giant by the end of 2019.

Under Phase I of the plan, HYM is proposing 520,000 sq. ft. of office space, in two 260,000 sq. ft. buildings, with supporting corporate space on the ground floor. Both proposed buildings will be approximately 120 feet tall, and will include terraced outdoor spaces with a landscaped, open-air walkway between the two buildings. The two buildings will share approximately 520 parking spaces. Approximately 12 acres of existing open space will remain as-is, and approximately 1.2 acres of new open space will be developed, including pedestrian access to the adjacent Suffolk Downs MBTA Blue Line station.

In order to build the two 120 proposed buildings, HYM needed a change in Article 53 before proceeding due to the height restriction of 45 ft.

In 1991 the former Boston Redevelopment Authority (now the BPDA) authorized then BRA director to petition the Boston Zoning Commission to adopt text and map amendments to the Boston zoning code to establish the East Boston Neighborhood District (Article 53). Within the East Boston Neighborhood District there were three Economic Development Area (EDA) subdistricts established to encourage economic growth.

The Suffolk Downs EDA was established between McClellan Highway, Bennington Street, Waldemar Avenue, and the City of Revere boundary.  The purpose of the Suffolk Downs EDA was to encourage sound development and growth that will expand the City’s economic base and afford broad employment opportunities.  However, the maximum building height allowed in this subdistrict was set at 45 ft.

HYM’s recent purchase of Suffolk Downs and the site being identified by the City of Boston as its preferred location for Amazon’s HQ2 proposal, as well as the feasibility of development, requires that the maximum height be raised to a maximum of one hundred thirty 130 ft. BPDA officials said at the meeting that this number is consistent with current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

At this time the amendment to Article 53 would only apply to Phase I of the project according to the BPDA and future phases of the project would still be subjected to a robust community process as well as BPDA Article 80 large project review.

The change would also solely apply to the height of the two proposed building under Phase I of the project.

The BPDA is scheduled to vote on Phase I of the Suffolk Downs project in February.

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